Parenting children from separate households will always be a challenge, even in the best of circumstances. Work obligations, school schedules, special holidays and family events are circumstances each parent must grapple with, but the problems that prevented a marriage or partnership from continuing do not have to drive the communication surrounding parenting the children.
These 5 suggestions for developing and sustaining parenting plans with minimal conflict have been tested and proven to be tools that enhance both parents’ and children’s experience.
- Have a specific schedule: A large percentage of the problems that cause conflict over parenting are the result of vague court orders. During the process of developing a custody and visitation plan, be specific about the dates, times and places to be documented in court orders. Ambiguity is the enemy of smooth parenting between busy households.
- Be flexible: it’s not possible to always be exactly on time for every parenting exchange. Traffic, weather or cranky kids can slow things down for the other parent. Be gracious when this types of occurrence takes place. This approach can engender cooperation from the other parent at another time when you might find yourself running late for an exchange.
- Talk it through: The inability to sustain a relationship does not have to translate into the inability to work together for the benefit of your children. Try communicating directly with one another about a specific problem while applying the following credo: is what you are about to say kind, necessary and for the benefit of all? Don’t wait to take this approach by expecting the other parent to take the first step. You have the power to set the communication tone.
- Co-parenting counseling: If your best efforts at civil communication fail, consider enlisting the assistance of a co-parenting counselor. This therapist is trained to assist in creating a neutral space where parents can share their differences with the objective of not only finding a better way to communicate with each other, but to also resolve parenting problems. A good provision to include in any parenting or custody court order would be one that requires the parents to first attend co-parenting counseling before returning to court. The outcome of these counseling sessions could enhance communication between the parents, produce resolution and result in the additional benefit of minimizing attorney fees.
- Return to court: If the parenting problems cannot be solved between the parents, then it’s best to return to court and solicit the assistance of the family law department. Before you ever see the judge, you will be required to meet with a family court services counselor to discuss the parenting issues. If the parents cannot solve their dispute in this meeting, the counselor has the power to recommend a custody and visitation schedule to the judge. If one or both parents dislike the recommendation, the case would be set for a trial. To protect you and your parenting rights, it’s best to have an experienced family law attorney represent you on your return to court.